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Lauca National Park April 30, 2007

Posted by Jason in Chile, culture, South America.
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 Lauca National Park

We arrived in Arica following another lengthy over night bus journey from San Pedro, on the border with Peru.  We were told that Arica was not a nice town to be in, however we found the people here friendly and the town suprisingly pleasant for a border town.

Sandwiched between the desert and the sea, we found a pristine beach totally empty with the odd pleasant cafe and bar to entertain ourselves.  Trying the local Pisco Sour variation was a delight (although a little painful in the morning!)

We only intended to stay here one night but we were stranded as we arrived on a Sunday when everything was shut.

We arranged a hire car, a 4 x 2 high clearance pick up for the trip to Lauca National Park.  This National Park is little visited by gringos as it takes a little more thought and time to explore.  Cheryl had been looking forward to visiting here for over a year!

Geoglyphs                                 The desert, and old archeaological site of Copaquilla

So we arranged a special deal for the vehicle and headed off first into the valley of Azapa to look at the Archaeological sites. Similar to Nazca and elsewhere, the pre Inca people of this area used geoglyphs on the mountainsides.  Large drawings of animals and human figures drawn by moving stones, dating from around 1000 to 1400 AD.

We then drove over a desert mountain pass to Poconchile and the main road east to the border with Bolivia and the Lauca National Park.  The landscape is stark desert.  Nothing growing with the odd oasis and the valleys fertile following the rivers to the coast. 

Cheryl and the Candelabra Cactus

The road winds its way east through the desert and then through Sierra and a small area of growth of a cactus that only grows between 2,500and 2,800m, the Candelabra Cactus.

We continue into the mountains to Putre.  Putre is a village that stands at 3,500m with a towering snow capped peak behind it.  It is a spectacular setting and the village is quiet and quaint.  Beautiful narow streets and cobbled roads.  Some streets have amazing 17th Century carved stone doorways and windows. Here we stayed the night.  Going from sea level to 3,500m can be a dizzy experience!  So we rested for the next days drive.

Putre Church     A street in Putre     Ornate stone door

The following day we travelled east towards the Bolivian border and the highest point of the Altiplano at 4,570m Lake Chungara, is apparently the highest lake in the world.

We travelled with a nice guy, Leo (Austrian), whom we had met the night before.  The views were spectacular as we continued to climb from Putre and the volcanoes of Pomerape and Parinacota came into view.  The area here is quite different from many areas of the altiplano that can be very arid.  The moisture that comes from the Amazon arrive here and deposit rains that keep the land very fertile.  There is much grazing of llamas, alpacas and sheep.

Fertile Altiplano     Volcanoes Pomerape and Parinacota in the foreground     I think Cheryl has pulled!!

We were also lucky to sea wildlife such as vicunas (of the llama family but cannot be tamed), viscachas (like rabits with a bushy tale!) and nandu (rheas, of the ostrich family).

The landscape here is truly spectacular, high snow capped volcanoes, wildlife, a beautiful lake and isolated highland communities.  We even managed to glimpse the mountain of Sajama, the highest mountain in Bolivia.

We travelled to the village of Parinacota where we had Mate de Coca.  The village is very small and beautiful.  At 4,392m.  It is an old and dusty village with an Aymaran population that are away from the village most of the year shepherding and only return for fiestas and religious times.  The population is very small.

Putre Church     Jason and Lee drinking Mate de Coca     The deserted village of Caquena

In addition we travelled to a very remote community called Caquena on a very rough dirt road.  This village like Parinacota is empty most of the year.  It appears that they only keep the very young or very old at the village and everyone else is out in the mountains.  It is quite spooky walking around a village that is almost deserted!  The setting is quite beautiful though with the volcanoes behind.

The day was a tiring drive and we returned to Putre for a good nights rest and a few beers.

We ate in a locals restaurant with superb food, the choice being alpaca or pollo (chicken), of course we had to have alpaca which was excellent.  We were then arm twisted to take part in the village raffle which everyone was very excited about.  The top prize being 10 kilos of Sugar!  The second prize 4 kilos!!  The owner of the restaurant was very excited at the prospect of winning this so we gave our tickets to her.  She was very pleased! 

The following day we said goodbye to Leo and headed down another dirt road to the salt flats of Surire.  A spectacular road through more deserted villages and past smoking volcanoes.  The salt flats were nice, with flamingoes in abundance.  We nearly got the car stuck on a pass which we had to abandon! Then settled for a bunkhouse to stay at the Guardeparque station.

Vicunas National Park     Sunset over the Salt Flats     Jason changing the wheel, while the supervisor is taking the picture!!

The following day we had to abandon a pass we were to take as the road was almost non existant! So we retraced our steps with the intention of taking another road to some more archaeological sites, unfortunately, we got a flat tyre and decided it would be too much of a risk without another spare to hand!  Some of ther “roads” around here hardly have any traffic on them at all.

We had been thinking how nice it would be to roam these lands and walk over the peaks and mountains in the area, then we came across a “mine field”!!  There was a sign on this side of the mountain, but not the other!  I think roaming the area might be a little too interesting at times!!

Lauca National Park was a revelation and very different from other parts of the Altiplano.  We wanted to stay and climb some of the volcanoes but now time is against us and Peru is beckoning.

This northern part of Chile through the Atacama desert to Arica and Lauca National Park is very interesting and beautiful.  A much better impression than further south.  But now it is time for Peru!!

More photos…..


San Pedro and the Atacama Desert April 23, 2007

Posted by Jason in Chile, culture, South America.
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The last couple of days have been a delight in one of the most hostile environments on the planet.

We finally left Argentina and headed back into Chile for the last time.  This time to see the Atacama Desert

San Pedro De Atacama      Pre Inca site outside of San Pedro      Pre Inca ruins outside of San Pedro

Parts of this desert are the dryest on earth with rain only occurring every 40 years or so!! Luckily, we were stopping for a few nights at an oasis called San Pedro de Atacama.

We arrived after the usual nonsence at the border, having to open up our bags to be searched but not really searching them!  A jobsworth award for somebody.  The journey had been eventful too with a blow out on the Altiplano plateau at 4,500m.  All good fun!

San Pedro we soon discovered is quite beautiful.  Narrow dirt streets with white washed buildings.  Plenty of Cafes and restaurants and ethnic music to listen to.  A great place to hang out.

The first night we went to the local observatory, “Observacion Del Cielo Austral”.    Where at 10pm they picked us up to be taken to a nearby area in the desert where they have 5 powerful telescopes observing the sky.

Here in the Atatacam desert is one of the best places in the world to observe the stars.  Mainly clear skies all year around. 

This was excellent, 3 hours of entertainment from the french scientist who runs the observatory.  I now actually know how to pick out some of the constellations (click on the link constellations for more info!).

The next day we hired mountain bikes and rode out to some pre inca ruins, firstly a Pukara on a hill near to San Pedro called Pukara de Quitor (Hill fort of Quitor) and then to a site with round mud adobe houses only excavated a few years ago called Tulor 800BC.  Very interesting sites.

Cheryl above Death Valley!

Later in the day we took a tour of the Death and Moon Valleys and watched the sun set over the moon valley.  Quite beautiful.

Sadly, we would have liked to have chilled out here a while, but another night bus awaited us to take us to Arica.

Argentina . . . So sad to leave April 20, 2007

Posted by Jason in Argentina, culture, Patagonia, South America.
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Well, the time has come sadly to finally say farewell to Argentina.  After spending 4 months in 2006 doing conservation work and travelling and the last 4 months or so travelling, trekking and climbing in Argentina, time has caught up with us and we have to finally move on to pastures new.

We can truly say that we are sad to leave.  Our Patagonian adventures were amazing, from summiting Aconcagua, to trekking, seeing Condors flying above our heads, to seeing Orca´s (killer Whales) beaching to catch the seals!  All simply amazing.  And not to mention the superb food and drink here, friendliness and hospitality of the Argentinians.

Our final days here have continued to inspire us.  After finally leaving Patagonia we travelled north to Cordoba, the University city of Argentina.  Many beautiful buildings and the best bookshops in Argentina!

We then travelled north again to Salta. A bautiful city with wonderful colonial buildings.  We stayed in a fantastic old colonial building which has an old safe where they have put the kitchen!  You just don´t want to get locked in!

We hired a car for 4 days and travelled up to San Antonio De Los Cobres , a mining town without many facilities up in the Altiplano.  We followed the famous railway here up to over 4,000m and then into the town.  A breathless journey but beautiful.  We had tried to get the train here but the train has not been running for a while due to an accident/breakdown of the train. 

We stayed the night in the town and then travelled the next morning to see the large famous viaduct.  Then along the Altiplano through remote settlements to the salt flats of Argentina. Not quite Uyuni, but still cool to see. 

Then we made our way to the beautiful village of Purmamarca in the province of Jujuy, with its narrow dirt streets and quaint buildings.  Behind the village is the hill of 7 colours.  

The following day we continued onto Humahuaca, another beautiful colonial town with narrow cobbled streets.  We then decided to try to visit the remote village of Iruya further north on a narrow dirt road in the mountains.  An eventful drive over another 4,000m pass in a small Fiat Uno.  Frankly I don´t think the car enjoyed the journey!

We made our destination by the late afternoon, unfortunately we then realised that we did not have enough petrol to get us back!  Quite a problem when there is no petrol in the village.

We also found to our horror that rather than being stranded in a quiet, little visited mountain community.  Every Gringo in the province was there and a 120 person film crew to film a Guinness advert!  The locals were loving it and hadn´t seen so much commotion before!

We ended up sleeping on a locals floor as all the accommodation had been taken by the film crew in the village!

So the next 12 hours were spent trying to find a source of petrol for the car, and finally a bus driver brought us 5 litres from the nearest supply 3 hours away!

We then made our way south and back to Salta stopping at Archaelogical sites on the way.  A beautiful are, and an eventful 4 days!

But now it is Chao to Argentina and Hola to Chile once again!!  To San Pedro and the Attacama desert we go.  But we will miss Argentina very much.


Orcas and Welsh Tea April 10, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in Argentina, culture, Patagonia, South America.

Orcas at Peninsula Valdes

Leaving the mountains behind for awhile we headed off to the East Coast of Argentina with our friends Mandy and Tom, who had just completed another GVI expedition near Bariloche. 

Puerto Madryn

Our first night in Puerto Madryn surprised us by not being too like the brash seaside town we expected and after finding a fantastic hotel at a discount rate courtesy of Tom, we headed down to the Eco Center.  Puerto Madryn quite fancies itself as “the Ecological Capital” of Argentina, and the Eco Center is a museum come art gallery that houses informative displays regarding the marine wildlife of the area.

Having learnt all there was to know (or all we could digest at least) about Orcas (Killer Whales), dolphins and the like we picked up a hire car and drove out to Peninsula Valdes the following day.  Peninsula Valdes is a mushroom shaped peninsula stuck onto the side of Argentina´s coast.  It´s famed for the amount of wildlife it attracts and boasts colonies of sea lions, elephant seals and penguins.

Elephant seal slowly making for the water

On Peninsula Valdes, apart from the typical sightings of penguin and sea lion colonies, we were treated to a magnificent display from the Orcas one morning.  A number of Orcas were swimming just off the beach as the sea lions basked in the sun and the pups played in the surf. As high tide approached, the Orcas repeatedly swam right up to the beach and launched themselves out of the water onto the beach in an attempt to catch one of the sea lion pups, whilst the sea lions sat there seemingly oblivious.  The Orcas were huge and it was quite an exhibition. 


That afternoon we drove back to Puerto Madryn in time for an early morning start the next day as Tom, Mandy and I were going diving with sea lions! The dive was pretty shallow and close to the coast.  Before we were even in the water there were loads of sea lions swimming around the boat, and on diving in they are very curious to see who these strange new fish in the sea are.  They swam right up to us, looking us straight in the eye with their big puppy dog eyes and playfully biting our fins, hands and even attaching themselves to Tom´s head in a somewhat comical way.

After the diving, we stopped for much needed refreshment at a cafe-bar on the beach, and then drove out to the Welsh villages south of Madryn.  Strangely, the only other place that Welsh is spoken outside of Wales is in a remote corner of Patagonia, Argentina!  We were immediately disappointed by the un-Welshness of the Welsh villages.  There weren´t any garish council estates or pregnant 16 year-olds in sight! 

Darwin´s Rhea  Orcas  Hairy armadillo

We stopped in one of the Welsh tea houses for a “Welsh” tea, the like of which I´ve never seen anywhere else in the world, especially not in Wales!  We had to send half of it back!  It was enough to feed an army.  With only a half portion, we were still stuffed full from the 8 different types of cake plus scones, jam, sandwiches and homemade bread.  If only I could find a tea like that in Wales, I swear I would give up travelling for good.

We stayed the night in Gaiman and visited the impressive dinosaur museum in Trelew the following day.  The sandy expanses of Patagonia have yielded an impressive collection of dino bones in recent years which has put Argentina firmly on the paleontology map.  Included in these finds are the new discoveries of the huge Gigantosaurus and Argentinosaurus (I love those names).

Jase dwarfed by dinosaur femur

Some of these fossils have been painstakingly pieced together and are on display in the museum.  It is most impressive to see so many dinosaurs skeletons together in one place.  When Jase stood next to a real life femur of the Argentinosaurus he was totally dwarfed by it.

Sadly that wrapped up our brief visit to the east coast and we were back on the overnight bus to Bariloche that evening.

Wildlife photos courtesy of Tom Rogers

Bariloche. . . We Love Patagonia April 10, 2007

Posted by Jason in Argentina, culture, Patagonia, South America.
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We finally left Patagonia following a final farewell dinner at the amazing “Albertos” Parilla Restaurant.  Enormous portions, and just “the” most tasty steak.

We are sad to be leaving, Patagonia has special memories for us and we have a special fondness for Bariloche after being here last year as well.  It is hard to believe we may not be back. But never say never! The temptation to alpine ski the Nahual Huapi traverse may be too much!

Bariloche at night    bariloche-cumbrech1.jpg    Nuahal Huapi

Luckily, we have been in Bariloche for Easter with its amazing Chocolate Easter Eggs!  If anyone is travelling in this neck of the woods you should check out the Hostel Refugio Patagonia with Tato and his family running the place. 

Refugio Patagonia Hostel

They are so friendly and welcoming.  A lovely place to stay, laid back and tranquil, we whole heartily recommend it.  Not to mention its proximity to a wonderful Empanada shop across the road!

Thanks Tato for making us so welcome.

As for Patagonia, we have many wonderful memories and are sad to leave, see the adventures we have had here, just an amazing place. But now starts a new chapter in our travels. To pastures new.

Hasta Luego Patagonia!